Rock against rock

Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, Middle East Downstairs, June 3, 2007
By JIM SULLIVAN  |  June 4, 2007
SLEEPYTIME GORILLA MUSEUM: Rocking against rock with lyrics from Finnegans Wake.

Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, five persons wearing raggedy beige tunics and garish eye make-up, filed from the rear of the Middle East downstairs to the stage Sunday night while playing mutant Dixieland music. Once on stage, the Oakland-based outfit launched into a much-ado-about-everything set — a collision of prog-rock, thrash metal, free jazz, punk, off-kilter funk, and more. Not that SGM were trained for this. Oh no. All the players have classical, conservatory backgrounds. They rebelled against that world, started playing rock, and then began a “rock against rock” campaign. Or as drummer Matthias Bossi said post-set, “We hate what it’s become. Everything is corporate.”

One song was introduced as being about “biologically significant copulation”; another described “the intersection of the animal kingdom and the plant kingdom.” “The Widening Eye,” with violinist Carla Kihlstedt moaning orgasms or death throes, was introduced by singer/guitarist Nils Frykdahl as “a little bit worse than the last one. I want to apologize in advance.”

Formed in 1999, SGM are touring in support of their just-released In Glorious Times (The End). They registered a metallic KO with the crescendo-laden “Helpless Corpses Enactment,” a song with lyrics borrowed from James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. At the end, three white-robed figures in blackface appeared and tossed kazoos to the crowd so everyone could offer a “Happy Birthday” salute to Bossi and bassist Dan Rathbun, who share a June 3 birthdate, 13 years apart.

A Frank Zappa/Les Claypool sense of wit and a fondness for complex time signatures are essential components of the SGM experience. Then there’s the over-the-top GWAR-ness. Electric violin is just as important as electric guitar; tribal percussion is integral. There are homemade instruments that complement the more traditional stuff. Lucidity is apparent, yet the illusion of lunacy is always lurking.

Related: Vusi Mahlasela, Don’t shoot the piano players, Going on sale: October 10, 2008, More more >
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